In a move that signals the Chicago Blackhawks understand their own limitations this season, Henri Jokiharju has been loaned to the Finnish World Junior Team for the upcoming tournament. Pre-tournament games start this week, and Jokiharju could be away from the Blackhawks until early January depending on how things go. The 19-year old is still eligible despite playing in 32 games for the Blackhawks this season. In related moves, the team has also activated Artem Anisimov and Gustav Forsling from injured reserve.
Jokiharju has been one of the best players on the Blackhawks all season, but given the team’s struggles through the first part of the year it makes sense to allow him to compete. The right-handed defenseman will immediately become Finland’s go-to player on the blue line among a group of fairly inexperienced teammates. Miro Heiskanen, who would also be eligible for the tournament, is playing big minutes in Dallas meaning there is ample opportunity for Jokiharju. With 11 points in 32 games for the Blackhawks, the tournament should be even easier for him.
Still, it’s an interesting decision this early for Chicago. The team was expecting to compete this season with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith still leading the way, but have dealt with injury and inconsistency through the first few months. That cost former head coach Joel Quenneville his job, and with Corey Crawford’s latest injury the season may be lost already. The Blackhawks sit in 30th place in the NHL with a 10-19-6 record, and are looking towards a future that relies on Jokiharju as a minute-munching two-way defender. Going to compete in the World Juniors is a strong development tool, and one the young defenseman will likely relish as he tries to lead his country to a medal.